Blooming Now: Dahlias Are Worth The Effort

Dahlia flower closeup

Dahlia blooms' exquisite colours and shapes make the fall flower garden.

Every autumn I notice things growing in other peoples gardens that fill me with regret: that I hadn’t planted them in my own. Today it’s dahlias. Why don’t I have a garden full of dahlias so I could go and pick a huge bunch of right now? That’s where dahlias really shine, in autumn bouquets.
The chef at my local greasy spoon has a bountiful flower garden, and he brings bunches of whatever is in bloom to brighten the restaurant. Pots of hot pink, orange and red dahlias line the counter right now. He must have a serious collection. Dahlia flowers are extravagant, and come in many different shapes and colours. I am determined to find a place for some dahlias next year, even tucked into my vegetable garden.
My challenge with dahlias in the past was finding a spot sunny enough, as they must have full sun. I’ve grown them in pots, in sunny spots, with mixed success, as they were in a hard-to-water place and I wasn’t great at maintaining them. Dahlia leaves and stems are fleshy and don’t appreciate being dried out, especially when they are making buds. I have seen them grown that way in other peoples gardens though, with good results. One planter of Bishop of Langraff dahlia and red Crocosmia was particularly memorable. Very large pots work best.

This summer I saw gardens in South Carolina. Southern gardens often elicit Zone Envy, and it was the case here, as their dahlias stay in place all year round, and multiply. Magnificent! And easy! That’s our challenge with dahlias: they aren’t hardy in zone 6 Toronto, so roots must be dug up in the fall and replanted in the spring.

In past years I’ve dug up my dahlia bulbs, but never got the hang of overwintering them, mainly through disorganization. I would forget that I had put them in a random shoebox, then discover them too late, all dried up.  I think the secret is to make a plan, write down the storage spot in the garden journal, (of course you have one) and label like crazy. Dahlias are so delightful at this time of the year, when much of the garden has faded, that a little extra effort is worth it. The other important part is remembering to buy the tuberous roots in the spring. That’s going in my garden journal right now. In the meantime, I’m looking at tulips.


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